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Friday, 21 May 2010

Trinity Hall, Cambridge

When I got my O-Level results, my Head of Year told me I had "an outside chance" of getting into Oxbridge. He told me I would have to work very hard in Sixth Form to get the right sort of A-Level results to get in and that I might have to face being unpopular with my peers.
I knew immediately that I wanted to apply and I knew that for me, Cambridge was the only choice for me. Years earlier, Dad had made sure that I saw both Oxford and Cambridge - I wonder if he was planting a seed even then. I say this as both visits to these cities were made on the way back from somewhere else and taking us many miles out of the direct route home. I remember sitting in a really dark restaurant called Fagin's in Cambridge as a child and then marvelling on arriving at Cambridge as an undergraduate that it was still there.
After a few weeks of night-clubbing in the Lower Sixth, my Mum sat me down and told me that I would have to apply myself if I was serious about getting into Cambridge. She was at pains to stress that if I worked on the pick and mix in Woolies it would be fine by her but that she honestly believed it would never be enough for me.
So in Sixth Form, I worked very hard and got the required results. My peers did not turn on me at all as I remember. When I got my results, I remember them all hugging me and being genuinely pleased for me. I was the first person from my school to get into Oxbridge and what an achievement for my Mum and Dad who had both left school in their early teens, Mum to become a weaver in a mill and Dad to a variety of jobs before joining the Royal Navy.
The Summer period was very tense at home with me terrified of leaving and my parents probably even more worried about how I would cope away from home. I had only done one sleepover with a friend in my life and was very shy. My brother decided it was best for everyone to take me on a long holiday to France to distract me and I am grateful still for such grown-up thinking. He gave me a lovely time seeing most of France, teaching me about wine and good food and perhaps most importantly, telling me of his times at the Royal Northern College of Music emphasizing all the fun I would have at college.
It was a sunny day in October when Mum and Dad drove me down to Trinity Hall, Cambridge to start a wonderful three years there. Why had I chosen Trinity Hall? Partly because it was known as the "lawyers' college" and I wanted to do Law and partly because it looked pretty and was on the River Cam. I do remember the alternative student prospectus saying that "the ducks were nice" and that just seemed so human and down to earth. Human and down to earth I could do - then and now!
We stopped off for a picnic lunch on the way and it just felt like a normal day out with my parents. That was until Dad pulled out the Good University Guide to reassure me that Cambridge was actually a good one! The second half of the journey went quicker and suddenly we were in the city itself with Mum and Dad arguing about how to get to college. As I recall, you have to break road traffic laws to get to where you need to be. Dad as an ex-policeman was quite comfy with this idea and Mum less so.
We arrived at the Porters' Lodge and got the keys to my room on N Staircase. I remember being thrilled that my name was on the sign outside all in white calligraphy on a black board. It made it all seem very real.
Mum and Dad made their goodbyes and I was feeling OK until Mum turned back to say there was some pork pie left from the picnic if I wanted it for my tea. At that point, I almost screamed at her and sent her on her way so she would not see my floods of tears. Years later, I heard how she had cried all the way home.
We shared bathrooms between 4 rooms and I bumped into Paula as we both wanted the loo at the same time. In the first days of Cambridge, you ask each other similar questions. What subject are you doing? What school do you come from? What staircase are you on? It turned out Paula and I were both from comprehensive schools in the North, both the first from our families to go to university and both reading Law. From this, we established a friendship that remains to this day. I used to cling to Paula and she used to hate that sometimes as she had an independent streak and liked to do her own things whether going to church, rowing or doing karate. On the first night, I irritated her by saying I had not been invited to anything whereas she had. Actually, I had just not found my pigeonhole (well, to be honest, I did not know what one was) which was stuffed with the same Fresher event invitations that she had already collected. We went to a first night disco I think and I think they put on the Madonna film Desperately Seeking Susan for us too. Like Milly Molly Mandy, I managed to make a fool of myself by getting locked in a toilet. Coming out, I met Rachel who also became a firm friend. Yes, most of my best friends have a toilet connection lol.
I went to bed that first night just delighted that I had actually spoken to anyone and ready to face the next exciting day. Now as an older and hopefully wiser person, I am so appreciative that my parents had the generosity to let me try Cambridge when it must have been so daunting for them and they must have questioned whether they were doing the right thing or not. Well, that one is easy to answer. I had a brilliant time and in a way, afterwards, nothing ever quite measures up to it. I would not have missed it for the world.


  1. That sounds exactly like i'd expect University life to start, a mixture of nerves and sadness that are overpowered by the need to discover and overcome.

  2. Hello!!
    just stumbled across your blog, just applied to Trinity Hall but heard that it has a bit of a "boring" reputation, it seems to be rather unknown, etc. Plus I've applied to Land Economy which I've realised now has too a rather negative reputation - so I'm thinking maybe it is not worth to go to Cambridge if I'll go as some sort of misfit... really sucks, I thought the university was enough but know I'm getting all this upsetting insider info which really has made me regret both choice of college and course... which is kind of bad

  3. Just thought I'd drop a quick note... still reeling that after spending one hour a week squeezed into Lucy's room we never got to know each other much better. So many similar experiences... although I'd done the mold-breaking many years before (and had been the odd working-class accent in the "posh" school for seven years).

    The parents turning back and looking is the killer, though. I can remember forcibly closing the door on them and purposely not looking back. Mom stayed hurt about that for years. Took a long time to admit to her that I just didn't want her to see the tears.

  4. "in a way, afterwards, nothing ever quite measures up to it" - this, I think, is very true of my Cambridge experience. I wondered after graduation whether it had been the right thing for me, as my self-esteem was knocked massively there, but perhaps it would have been anywhere? And as time goes by I think it's a worthwhile thing to have on your CV. And I did love so much of it... complicated stuff, I think.